Benitez consoles an injured Gerrard. (Photo: Reuters)
Liverpool FC must go back
to basics to solve crisis
Comment by Ian Doyle - Daily Post
Whoever mischievously booked Jurgen
Klinsmann as a television pundit on Tuesday night must have
known what was coming.
Short of donning a cowl and carrying a sickle, the German
seemingly embodies the grim reaper threatening Rafael
Benitezís reign at Liverpool, appearing only at the darkest
of times for the Spaniard.
And the storm clouds are once again gathering around the
Anfield manager after a demoralising, damaging defeat to
A fourth successive setback, Liverpoolís worst losing run in
more than 22 years, has cast serious doubt over Champions
League progress as an underwhelming campaign plumbed new
When Liverpoolís European future was threatened in similar
fashion two years ago, the heads of American co-owners
George Gillett and Tom Hicks were turned towards Klinsmann.
The Germanís subsequent unadulterated failure in charge of
Bayern Munich last season while Liverpool challenged
strongly for the Premier League title indicated it was one
particular bullet dodged.
But Benitez now finds himself back in the firing line,
although with Gillett and Hicks struggling to see eye-to-eye
on pretty much anything, itís unlikely any triggers will be
pulled in the foreseeable future.
Certain sections of the Liverpool support, though, are
beginning to have their patience and faith in the manager
Witness the jeers that met the final whistle on Tuesday and,
more tellingly, the decision to replace goalscorer Yossi
Benayoun, a rare attacking threat for Liverpool on the
evening, in the closing moments.
So, barely five months after their thrilling yet futile
attempt to chase down Manchester United, what has gone
Of course, Tuesday wasnít the first time a Benitez
substitution has met with disapproval from the Anfield
faithful. Almost 12 months has passed since the Spaniard was
berated for hauling off Javier Mascherano and not Lucas
Leiva during a goalless home draw with Fulham.
Some things donít change. And while Lucas is conveniently
made the fall guy by fans apparently unable to point the
finger at the shortcomings of more experienced players, the
fact remains the central midfield pairing of the Brazilian
and Mascherano lacks the required guile at this level.
Worries over preparation in pre-season have been compounded
by a lengthening injury list, and there is a very real
prospect of entering Sundayís crucial Anfield showdown
against United without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.
The manager often cites last seasonís home win over their
bitter North West rivals as evidence of how the team can
cope without their talismanic duo.
But the line-up that September afternoon included Robbie
Keane and Xabi Alonso, players who, for varying reasons, are
now at pastures new.
And thereís the problem. Since the start of the year,
Liverpool have lost a main frontline striker in Keane, their
most experienced centre-back in Sami Hyypia, and their most
influential midfielder in Alonso.
None have so far been sufficiently replaced. Whether that
has been through lack of available funds, lack of foresight
or Benitezís transfer policy is open to debate.
Whatís not is that the failure to recruit comparable
strength to the squad has contributed to six defeats in 13
games this season, more than in the whole of the previous
Benitezís admission after last weekendís surrender at
Sunderland that Liverpool cannot withstand the absence of
five first-team regulars was in tacit agreement with this
Few would have expected Danny Ayala, Jay Spearing and Martin
Kelly to have started games in anything other than the
Carling Cup during the opening weeks.
And Benitez hasnít helped himself with some curious team
selections and a stubborn refusal to change either tactics
or personnel in the face of overwhelming evidence they
Admittedly, the Spaniard could have done without the
unwelcome surprise of Alberto Aquilaniís recovery from his
ankle injury taking twice as long as first expected.
The Italian could make his belated bow in next Wednesdayís
Carling Cup clash at Arsenal, and will have to cope with the
anticipated pressure to instantly deliver on his £20m price
tag and provide the creativity Liverpoolís midfield is so
But itís not only the supporting cast that have been found
wanting, too many first-team regulars falling way short of
the high standards they have set during the past 18 months.
Mascherano, preoccupied by summer interest from Barcelona
and the malaise that threatened Argentinaís World Cup finals
place, has underwhelmed, Jamie Carragher by his own
admission below par, and Gerrard unable to consistently
stamp his influence on games.
Even Torres, despite his eight-goal haul, has produced
intermittently. Indeed, only Pepe Reina and new signing Glen
Johnson can largely be absolved of any genuine blame.
The resilience and unity for which Liverpool became noted
last season just isnít there, meaning they are more likely
to concede last-minute goals, as on Tuesday, than score one.
Simply, they are too easy to beat, falling whenever any
half-decent opposition has been put before them.
It could be argued Liverpool are suffering a curious kind of
hangover from their exhilarating run-in last season.
Since the defeat at Middlesbrough in February, Benitezís
side, previously founded on watertight defence and gaining a
vice-like grip on proceedings, had no option but to change
tack and go for broke in an attempt to close the gap in
terms of both points and goal difference on United.
That cavalier attitude transformed Liverpool into the great
entertainers but exposed their renowned backline, precisely
the criticism they have attracted this campaign.
Maybe a return, if only temporary, to the previous obdurate,
composed and efficient machine can help rebuild a confidence
clearly shattered by recent events.
Otherwise, Klinsmann may find more television work coming
his way sooner rather than later.
begin at the top
Comment by Tommy Smith - Liverpool Echo
Something has gone badly wrong on the
pitch at Liverpool. We can all see it and itís painful
stuff. There are problems almost everywhere you look Ė and
almost as many reasons for them.
Without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres we do seem to
struggle. Any team would miss world class stars like these
but we are over-reliant on them, itís true.
Rafa Benitez has made mistakes of course and he has got an
awful lot on his hands now to put things right. Heís not
beyond criticism and has to accept his share of the blame
for things, of course. But those people calling for his head
because of this alarming, sudden dip in results are way off
the mark as I see it.
Because the truth for me is this.
If things have just started to go wrong on the pitch, then
off it they have been wrong Ė very wrong Ė for two and a
half years now.
The American owners have screwed the club up and are still
doing so. They are hardly ever there, hardly on speaking
terms I hear and showing no sign of doing the decent thing -
selling up and getting out.
True Liverpool fans would far rather see the back of Tom
Hicks and George Gillett than a popular and proven manager
who is yet capable of putting things right again.
A manager who, for all the players he has bought and who
have not worked out, has not had one extra penny to invest
this summer in a squad that lost just two league games last
year Ė and which he has previously led to two Champions
League finals Ė not to mention his achievements in Spain
No. IĎm convinced Liverpoolís biggest problems begin right
at the top and that weíre seeing them seep down now. Iím not
saying the Americans alone are to blame for everything, but
Hicks and Gillett must surely understand their ongoing
broken partnership is at the root of everything that is so
wrong still behind the scenes at Anfield.
To them, Liverpool FC is just a money making venture. But to
all the people who really care about Liverpool, itís much,
Itís time the Americans Ė not the Liverpool manager Ė went.
Evans and Hamann
show support for Rafa
Rafa Benitez has received the support of a
former Liverpool boss and one of the club's Istanbul heroes
in the aftermath of their Lyon defeat.
And he also received some better injury news ahead of
Sunday's vital home league clash against Manchester United
with England defender Glen Johnson confident he will be fit
Captain Steven Gerrard, who suffered a recurrence of his
groin injury just 25 minutes into Tuesday's 2-1 defeat to
Lyon, and striker Fernando Torres, who missed the match with
a groin problem, both underwent intensive treatment today.
That will continue right up until Sunday's showdown with the
champions, with Torres the more likely to be fit.
Gerrard's problems are believed to be a more serious concern
for Benitez, who has suffered a barrage of criticism after
the club's worst run of defeats in 22 years.
But it looks like he will have Johnson back on Sunday.
The full-back said: "The injury is a lot better, I will be
all right for Sunday.
"We did not test it today, just soft tissue work and
massage, but it seems a lot freer than it did on Tuesday.
"I think Fernando might be all right for Sunday but I am not
too sure about Stevie."
Benitez added: "Steven is suffering from the same injury he
has had before and Fernando will be working hard with the
Suggestions that Benitez could be sacked are wide of the
mark. He signed a new four-year contract in March and has
made a string of key appointments on the coaching and
academy staff since then.
He has also been mindful of the rift between co-owners Tom
Hicks and George Gillett.
Hicks has been a strong supporter of the manager while
Gillett has criticised Benitez's spending this season.
But both would have to agree on any move to axe Benitez,
which is highly unlikely in the current climate.
Benitez has also received support from former Liverpool boss
Roy Evans, who said: "The results have put a lot of pressure
"But they are still in the Champions League and can still
get second place (in the group), but there has to be an
improvement, that's for sure.
"Rafa has always been tactically very strong in Europe, but
when you lose your best players, like Gerrard, Torres and
Johnson, that is a real problem.
"Without them Liverpool struggle to compete, with them they
are a good bet to recover their position in the group.
"You cannot always blame the manager, players have to
improve. They have had four games without a win and people
are starting to get on his back, manager's do take
responsibility but sometimes it is the players who have to
look at themselves.
"They are playing for Liverpool and they are not at their
best. It is not just about the manager, it is about the
players improving and the fans getting behind the man in
Evans added: "A good result will change everything. A win
against Manchester United could be the victory that gives
Liverpool their confidence back.
"Liverpool are not at their best. But a win against United
could kick start their season.
"Rafa will still be there next season. He has had a good
five years and started off with a bang when he won the
"But when things do start to go wrong and people get on your
back, it gets hard.
"But Liverpool fans are renowned for their knowledge of the
game and they will get behind Rafa and the club and
hopefully they will move on to better things."
German midfielder Dietmar Hamann, who played in the victory
over AC Milan in the Champions League final in 2005, said:
"Last season the players maintained their form and they did
not have too many injuries.
"But at the moment they do not have that strength in depth
to replace and change things.
"Rafa is a shrewd man but people have not been playing as
well as last season.
"He always used to find a way out of situations, Liverpool
always overcame problems.
"Now they do not know where the next win is coming from. But
Rafa is the right man, he knows what is required. The only
way out of this is to win games and get confidence back.
"Against United it will be tough, but they have shown they
have the ability to compete with the top teams and the squad
is not much different.
"Everyone has to stick together and work hard on the
training pitch, they need a win from somewhere.
"The title is still possible. It is easy to write them off,
people always see things in the worst perspective, but every
team goes through a bad run.
"If they go out of the Champions League it will be a
disaster, the players need that incentive and the club needs
"Let's wait and see how they respond. The fans will be right
behind them on Sunday and hopefully they will get the win
that will turn their season around."
must step up, says Rush
Ian Rush says it would be a mistake for
Liverpool to get rid of Rafael Benitez at this stage of the
The pressure is mounting on the Spaniard following a run of
four straight defeats, which has seen Liverpool struggling
to keep up with their rivals in the title race and at risk
of going out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Tuesday night's defeat at home to Lyon was hardly the ideal
preparation for Sunday's crunch showdown with Manchester
United at Anfield, but former Reds striker Rush says
Benitez's position should not be in question.
And he urged the supporters to get behind the manager - and
the team - on Sunday.
"The time is not right now," Rush told Sky Sports News.
"You need to get behind the manager - and the players as
well. I'm sure the supporters will do on Sunday.
"It's up to the players to respond. The manager can only
pick a team and it's up to the players to respond on the
pitch against Manchester United.
"There will be a good atmosphere against Manchester United.
Yeah, okay we lost against Lyon so maybe the atmosphere will
not be quite what was expected, but we can still qualify for
the second phase of the Champions League.
"We've got to get behind everyone. For me that's what makes
Liverpool such a special club."
Following the Lyon clash, Benitez spoke of the club's injury
problems, insisting it was worse than at any other stage in
his five years in charge.
Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson both missed the Lyon game,
while captain Steven Gerrard hobbled off after 20 minutes
and all three are now doubts for Sunday's match.
Rush insists Liverpool's squad players should be able to
fill in for the star names, but says he has been
disappointed by their performances of late.
"The players that come in have got to do the job, it's as
simple as that," he said.
"They've got to make the manager's job hard to pick the next
"At the moment, when Torres, Gerrard and Johnson are fit
they're straight in. That's because maybe the players that
have come in haven't quite done the job to win games.
"It would be lovely for Liverpool to have beaten Lyon, then
come the game against Manchester United, the manager could
say 'What team do I pick? Everyone's playing well.'
At the moment I think the team's picking itself.
backing for Benitez
Liverpool star Javier Mascherano insists
under-fire Reds boss Rafa Benitez has the backing of all the
players at Anfield.
Benitez's position at Liverpool has come under fresh
scrutiny after Tuesday's damaging home defeat to Lyon in the
UEFA Champions League.
The defeat was Liverpool's fourth in consecutive games in
all competitions leaving them facing an uphill battle to
qualify for the next stage in Europe's premier competition.
The Reds already see themselves off the pace in the Premier
League and they welcome Manchester United to Anfield knowing
defeat to their arch-rivals could end their championship
dreams in October.
Mascherano says the players must take responsibility for
Liverpool's poor form and he claims the whole squad remain
"The players play on the pitch, the manager can't talk to
us, can't say how to play," Mascherano told Sky Sports News.
"We take the responsibility and we have to work on the
"I think it [the tactics] is working. That is not the
problem, the problem is we are not playing as best we can.
"We have to try to win on Sunday and try to continue
"We believe in all the squad and all the staff.
"Last season we were doing a very good season so we have to
maybe remember that and try to win on Sunday."
Benitez faces the biggest
test of his career
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo
As Cesar Delgado delivered the cruel late
twist in the tale, Rafa Benitez cut a forlorn figure on the
This was the moment when an alarming slump descended into a
The Spaniard has made a habit of making history since he
arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 2004 but this was one
he didnít want on his CV.
Not since April 1987 have Liverpool suffered four successive
defeats and this latest setback left their hopes of
Champions League progress on a knife edge.
Benitez has bounced back from the brink many times during
his Anfield tenure.
When murmurs of discontent have started to grow, heís always
delivered the goods and silenced his critics.
But now he faces the toughest test of his managerial career
as he attempts to breathe new life into a campaign which has
not only stalled but is threatening to implode.
Manchester United must be licking their lips at the prospect
of heaping more misery on a side who currently look
desperately short of both confidence and belief.
Benitez undoubtedly still has the full backing of the
overwhelming majority of Reds supporters but the group of
dissenters is growing.
The howls from the stands when the manager took off
goalscorer Yossi Benayoun and brought on the hapless Andriy
Voronin late on last night was a very public show of
Benitez must take his share of the flak for his sideís
failings but many of the current problems are undeniably
linked to the American ownersí chronic lack of investment in
the playing squad.
While Benitez had to wheel and deal like Del Boy Trotter,
Lyon forked out £70million on the likes of Argentinian
striker Lisandro Lopez, Aly Cissokho, Michel Bastos and
For over an hour there was resilience and character in
abundance as the Reds shrugged off the absence of Fernando
Torres, Albert Riera and Glen Johnson and took the game to
That spirit was epitomised by young Martin Kelly who
produced an impressive full debut at right back.
The Whiston-born 19-year-old was coolness personified as he
kept Ederson quiet and embarked on some rampaging runs down
the flank, whipping was quality crosses into the box.
In the middle of the park Javier Mascherano looked more like
his old self, charging 40 yards to win back possession and
spreading play intelligently.
Even the agonising sight of skipper Steven Gerrard limping
off after aggravating his groin problem midway through the
first half didnít halt the home sideís charge.
A five-hour goal drought Ė stretching back to the thrashing
of Hull City - was ended but this revival was built on
Aurelio, David Ngog and Dirk Kuyt all passed up chances to
settle the contest and they were made to pay when Maxime
Gonalons fired home.
Deflated, Liverpool lost their way and there was an air of
inevitability about Delgadoís last-gasp strike.
Benitez must act fast because a whole season is in serious
danger of slipping away.
Trouble brewing as fans get
booing after latest defeat
By Ian Doyle - Liverpool Daily Post
Now not even the usual solace of European
competition can offer Rafael Benitez refuge
from his woes.
A miserable run of form continued with Liverpoolís Champions
League hopes taking another significant knock with a
dreadful defeat at home to Lyon.
After the failure at Fiorentina, the collapse at Chelsea and
the surrender to Sunderland, this was a fourth successive
loss for Benitezís confidence-shot side.
Not since April 1987 have Liverpool registered such a poor
run of form. But while the team that season reached a
domestic cup final and finished runners-up in the league,
such consolations at present seem beyond this vintage.
The boos that thundered around a disbelieving Anfield at the
final whistle underlined the frustration that has been
growing among the home faithful for some time.
No wonder. Those supporters can see a season that began with
great expectations slowly slipping away, and with Manchester
United and Arsenal to play in the next week, there appears
no imminent respite.
Even the return of Steven Gerrard last night from an
adductor problem ultimately offered no encouragement, the
skipper lasting only 25 minutes having aggravated the injury
and now a major doubt for Sundayís visit of United.
Benitezís injury worries show no signs of abating. Already
without Fernando Torres and Albert Riera, the duo were
joined by Glen Johnson on the sidelines last night.
Liverpool had given little evidence at the Stadium of Light
on Saturday that their squad could cope with the absence of
a number of key personnel, a view that will only be enhanced
by this latest disappointment.
Creativity from central midfield remains a major concern.
Lucas remains an all-too-easy target for supporters, but
neither he nor Javier Mascherano have shown a consistent
ability to unlock defences with a killer pass.
One must surely be sacrificed once Alberto Aquilani makes
his belated bow. The Italian is an unknown quantity but the
only certainty around Anfield at present is that things
simply have to change.
When Marseille became the last French team to win at Anfield
two years ago, it sparked a sequence of events that almost
cost Benitez his job.
A strong finish to that Champions League group ensured the
Liverpool manager retreated from the abyss, and it will take
a similar recovery to win through to the knockout stages
The confusion that reigns in the corridors of power at
Anfield means Benitezís position appears not under any
immediate threat. But the jeers that greeted his decision to
replace goalscorer Yossi Benayoun in the closing moments
suggest he is testing the patience of some sections of the
Having scored for fun during the opening weeks of the
season, the goals have suddenly dried up for Liverpool. Yet
the leaky defence remains, not helped by constant chopping
A third successive blank at Sunderland prompted Benitez to
reshuffle his attack with David Ngog asked to lead the line
in only the seventh start of his Liverpool career, one of
five changes from the weekend.
A rare chink of light on a dark evening was the full debut
at right-back of Martin Kelly. There are high hopes for the
19-year-old, who impressed during pre-season and on a brief
loan spell at Huddersfield Town last season.
And following a shaky opening, Kelly delivered a promising
performance which was only curtailed when he sustained an
injury while attempting to prevent Lyonís equaliser.
Although Gerrard struck an early shot into the side-netting,
the early signs did not augur well against a Lyon team that,
although beaten at the weekend, lead the French table.
The visitors came close in the 10th minute, when a driven
cross from the left wing by Aly Cissokho was met by the head
of Lisandro Lopez only for Pepe Reina to beat the ball out
from point-blank range.
The game, though, soon descended into below-par fare, with
Liverpool struggling to muster any creativity from midfield
and Lyon curiously lacking the conviction to capitalise.
Benitezís side were therefore able to gradually rebuild
their confidence and, with substitute Aurelio heavily
involved, finished the half the stronger.
They found a way through in the 41st minute as the visitors
once again struggled to deal with a simple ball into the
area. Lucas fed Aurelio down the left and, from the
Brazilianís driven low cross, Ngog had a swing, Lucas and
Kelly bumped into each other before Benayoun kept his cool
to finish beyond Lloris.
Aurelio almost doubled the advantage moments later, his
bullet header from a fine Kelly cross brilliantly turned
behind by Lloris.
It proved to be a turning point, although Liverpool
continued to look the most likely at the start of the second
period, Benayoun heading a Kuyt cross wide and, from another
good Kelly cross, Ngog controlled well on his chest but
screwed wide off his shin.
Lloris then produced a second excellent save to dive low to
his right to deny Kuytís header, but Lyon began to slowly
increase the pressure on Liverpoolís makeshift backline.
And the French side were level on 72 minutes. After failing
to properly deal with a corner, Reina then made two fine
saves from Toulalan and Sidney Govou before the ball broke
to substitute Maxime Gonalons to head in from six yards.
Then in injury time another substitute, Cesar Delgado,
provided the coup de grace by prodding Govouís low cross
from the right home at the far post with the home defence
alarmingly all over the place.
There may have been no beach ball, but this was still a
deflating evening for Liverpool.
Liverpool facing Gerrard wait
By James Carroll at Anfield - LFC Official Website
Rafa Benitez admits Liverpool face a nervous wait to
discover the extent of Steven Gerrard's injury after the
captain limped out of Tuesday's Champions League defeat to
The midfielder lasted just 25 minutes of the contest at
Anfield due to a suspected reoccurrence of a groin injury,
and the boss will now await the results of further tests on
"I think it is the same problem," Benitez told his
post-match press conference. "He felt something, so he knew
it was better to come off."
Asked if he felt it was a risk playing his skipper, Benitez
replied: "It wasn't a risk. He wanted to play, the doctor
said he was okay and he has been training for the last two
days. Sometimes it is bad luck."
Benitez also confirmed Glen Johnson missed the game due to
injury, while youngster Martin Kelly sustained a knock in
the second half of our 2-1 reverse.
"We will have to check the players tomorrow," he said. "We
have too many problems with different players and we won't
know more until we check tomorrow."
The defeat to Lyon leaves Liverpool with three points from
their opening three Champions League matches this season.
However, Benitez is confident the Reds can draw on the
experience of 2007-08 when his side found themselves in a
similar situation and still managed to progress into the
last 16 in style.
He said: "It was a difficult game for us, but we were
winning 1-0 and had two or three chances that could have
"We are really disappointed because it was a difficult game
that we could have won.
"But we have done it before and now we have to do the same.
We have to be ready for the next game and try to win, and
afterwards the same with the other two games in the group.
"We have done it before and we have to have confidence we
can do it again."
Manchester United are next up for Liverpool at Anfield on
Sunday, and Benitez is confident his players will be ready
for the visit of Alex Ferguson's side.
He added: "We will have to prepare the players and push
them. We will prepare for the game like always and keep
going. It is a question of doing things properly and having
"Again, I will say we had chances and everything could have
"We have to prepare for the next game. That is our job and
we will do it from as soon as I finish this press
conference. We have to be ready."
Carra: We'll get through this
By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Jamie Carragher is in no doubt Liverpool
will come through their dip in form sooner rather than later
- and the defender believes they now have the perfect
fixture to turn their season around.
The Reds conceded two late goals to lose 2-1 to Lyon in the
Champions League - and now go into this weekend's clash with
Manchester United having lost four on the spin.
However, Carra thinks the visit of our north-west rivals on
Sunday could be the catalyst for a return to form.
"We're going through a tough patch but we've been through
them before and we'll bounce back, there's no doubt about
that," said the vice-captain.
"We always bounce back because we've got a lot of fight and
"It's always a great game. That could be the game we need -
if we win it will give everyone a massive lift."
Liverpool have collected three points from three in the
Champions League group stages and have work to do to catch
Fiorentina on six points and Lyon on nine.
Carra added: "It's massively disappointing for us and it
gives us a lot to do.
"They caught us on the counter attack for the second goal.
We would have been disappointed not to win but to lose that
late in the game is even more so.
"You never know how results are going to go, so you've just
got to look after yourself and try to win every game - and
that's something we're looking to do now."
Benitez's men hit new low
Liverpool's season slumped to a new low as
they threw away the lead to lose 2-1 against Lyon at Anfield
in the UEFA Champions League after a last-gasp goal from
Yossi Benayoun had given Rafa Benitez's under-pressure side
a first-half lead, but Maxime Gonalons and Delgado earned
Group E leaders Lyon a victory to send tremors across
The Reds knew they were facing the prospect of four
successive defeats for the first time since 1987 following
setbacks at Fiorentina and Chelsea, and Saturday's
loss-by-beachball at Sunderland, but they failed to produce
a performance which merited a win.
Liverpool were rocked midway through the first half as
captain Steven Gerrard was substituted as a precautionary
measure following tightness in his groin, an injury which
ruled him out at the Stadium of Light.
However, the Reds recovered and on 41 minutes the England
ace's replacement, Fabio Aurelio, hit a cross-shot which
fortuitously found Benayoun at the back post and the Israeli
made no mistake.
The low-level confidence of Benitez's men was given a clear
lift by the goal, but on 72 minutes the defensive frailties
which have plagued their season were again evident as
Gonalons nodded in following two good saves from Jose Reina.
Liverpool, who face Manchester United in the Premier League
at the weekend, were then stunned on the stroke of full-time
as Delgado tapped in following an electric counter-attack.
An air of nervous tension hung over Anfield, such were the
levels of distress from fans unused to their side losing
with such regularity.
Liverpool's form has been poor, a situation made worse by
having their squad systematically deprived of its best
Fernando Torres was again out, while Glen Johnson was
missing with a groin injury. At least Gerrard was back - but
that lasted only 25 minutes.
Teenager Martin Kelly, Whiston-born and Academy produced,
made his full debut at right-back, having had just a handful
of minutes prior to this as a late substitute against PSV
Eindhoven in Holland last December in this competition.
Facing them were a clever, experienced team, full of neat
passing, solid possession and clever movement which
threatened a fragile Liverpool.
It needed a close-range save from Reina to keep out a
powerful header from Argentina striker Lisandro before
patched-up Liverpool - who had David Ngog in Torres' role -
continually wasted possession.
Former Liverpool and Lyon boss Gerard Houllier watched from
the directors' box as the Reds struggled, while co-owner
George Gillett was also in attendance, fresh from his trip
to Saudi Arabia.
There were signs of Liverpool defiance, a Dirk Kuyt header
disallowed for offside from Gerrard's deep cross.
That was virtually the only contribution from the skipper,
who trudged off to be replaced by Aurelio. The groin injury
sustained on England duty had given way again and facing
United on Sunday looks a long shot.
It needed a performance of defiance, spirit and sheer desire
from Liverpool to survive this, and there were occasional
signs to warm The Kop but a clinical edge was missing.
Defender Cris was booked for a foul on Kuyt, the Dutchman's
knee crashing into his head as he fell. The Brazilian did
not last much longer, carried off in a daze.
Liverpool were beginning to show fight now, and somehow
France No.2 goalkeeper Hugo Lloris kept out an Ngog effort
after fine work by Kelly, Kuyt and Aurelio.
Aurelio had a powerful header saved by Lloris' left-hand
from Kelly's run and cross, before Liverpool took a 41st
Benayoun showed calmness to lift the ball over Lloris from
eight yards, after Aurelio's cross evaded Kelly in the
Ngog was booked for a foul on Jeremy Toulalan, then Lyon
skipper Sidney Govou was cautioned for flattening Emiliano
Benayoun, with a fine header, and Ngog - from eight-yards -
could have stretched Liverpool's lead in the second period,
while Lloris needed to be at full stretch to keep out Kuyt's
header from Aurelio's cross.
Lyon sent on striker Bafetimbi Gomis to partner Lisandro in
place of Ederson - and they began to stretch Liverpool.
Bosnian teenager Miralem Pjanic, followed relentlessly by
Lucas, was starting to find space to produce the sort of
tricks which have helped his country into the World Cup
The pressure increased and Lyon equalised in the 72nd
Liverpool failed to clear a corner, Reina made two
outstanding saves from Toulalan and Govou before the ball
reached substitute Gonalons, who dived to head home.
The hosts then lost young Kelly with an ankle injury, with
Martin Skrtel taking over in a defence under increasing
Benitez sent on Andriy Voronin for the lively Benayoun, as
the decision was greeted by boos from The Kop, as Liverpool
searched for a second.
But the decider came in injury-time from substitute Cesar
Delgado, arriving at the far post to sidefoot past Reina
from Govou's cross.